On Lore, Culture, and Religion in Azeroth

On Lore, Culture, and Religion in Azeroth

Sometimes when I’m scrolling through MMO Champion’s Blue Tracker I find something that just astounds me. This particular post and blue response have absolutely nothing to do with WoW gameplay, but nonetheless, they weigh in on an issue of great interest to me–the level of detail used to evoke the universe of Warcraft.

Unfortunately, the issue of Warcraft culture is couched in incredibly bigoted and small-minded terms. Let’s take a look at the original player rant:

All races exept gnomes and orcs can be a priest, druid or paladin. Priests and paladins cherish and worship the divine and holy, whilst druids are in contact with the ancient spirits. This of course, is fine. Not all races can have all classes. The thing I reacted against, and so should you all; the lore clearly states the gnomes as the most intelligent of races. They have advanced the furthest in technology, and have a passive racial that gives them more intellect. So, being an atheist, and a slave of Satan gives you a greater mind, eh?

The fact that the “most intelligent” race in WoW does not have a religion is like a stab in the back for me. To me, Blizzards message is “Oh, but intelligent people don’t believe in God”. I am vastly offended by this, and would like to see a change in the lore, where human missionaries convert the gnomes into believing in the divine, thus making them able to create a priest or paladin.

Yes, I am aware that my main character is a gnome, but after finding this shocking discovery I will most certainly reroll. Those little blasphemers will no longer be a part of my life. Any christians out there will and should agree with me.

As a caveat, let me just say that I think the player’s actual complaint about the lack of a gnomish religion is utter crap. As an educated person, I advocate religious tolerance in all situations, for all people. And by “tolerance,” I mean not just “putting up with” many different religious traditions, but celebrating their difference and encouraging dialogue among them. Tolerance includes virtual worlds–whether or not the player is a participant in a particular religion should not affect his or her experience of gameplay, and I think Blizzard does a pretty good job of being religion-neutral. However, even a bigoted post can sometimes bring up an interesting issue.

Blizzard’s response, of course, was to lock the thread. However, in among the dribble and insults, there were some interesting ideas.

One gnome poster, responding to the question of whether gnomes have a religious faith, asked: “How do you know they don’t?”

How indeed. This would have been exactly my response (except that I have sometimes suspected that gnomes might be intended to have things in common with Jewish culture–diaspora, a reputation for intelligence, discrimination in the form of gnome jokes–but that’s a topic for another post). In his misguided way, this hostile poster who calls gnomes “atheist servants of Satan” is actually hinting at a real problem in the World of Warcraft.

The Lore

The issue here is that the way The Lore (capitals intended) is handled conflicts with the nature of gameplay in an MMO. Most of the information that is released to the players about The Lore, either through previous games, graphic novels, novelizations, and Major Lore Quest Chains focuses on the famous figures of Azeroth. It’s not hard to find out something about Arthas, Jaina, Sylvanas, Varian Wrynn, or Medivh. These folks are major players. However, the vast majority of quest content has players interacting with nobodies–level 17 farmers, craftsmen, clerics, and ne’er-do-wells. What I want to know is what the peoples of Azeroth do when they’re not busy being heroic. We get bits and pieces of the history of Azeroth on that small scale–the Darrowshire quests are a very good example of this. However, we really don’t get to learn a darn thing about how Draenai education works, why dwarves tend to go exploring, or what it would be like to go to a troll wedding.

I think someone knows all of this. In fact, I bet the developers have a Big Book of Azerothian Cultural History–well, probably a giant scrapbook or stack of file folders. They would have to if they cared about making coherent quest content–which they certainly do. However, I bet it’s a hodgepodge of information, written by many different people, and I also bet that it doesn’t cover everything.

Maybe gnomes cherish small household gods that are closely associated with the family, like the Roman Larës.

Maybe gnomes get their best ideas while they’re meditating on the nature of life–or mechanical parts–for half an hour a day.

Maybe the gnomes hide their religion from the Big People in order to head off discrimination.

I bet Blizzard knows this, or could use that Big Book to come up with a logical answer.

The Solution

People love the World of Warcraft, and I think they would eat it up if Blizzard released some of their unpublished material on Azerothian culture. What they should do is set up a website for such questions–perhaps a blog–and employ a professional writer to maintain it. And I might mention that if they’re ever hiring this job, I’m applying. I love fantasy and fantasy worlds. Warcraft makes for an interesting universe, but most of The Lore is deadly dull. It focuses on Great Deeds of the Past and tends to be communicated in a very monotonous tone in Blizzard’s official publications. Have you seen some of those sentences? Someone should start charging the writers a 15c fine for each subordinate clause in excess of three. I’d hazard a guess that they didn’t hire a professional fantasy writer to produce their paragraphs about Arthas. Do I think that I could do a better job? Heck yes. And the number one question I would ask myself is–what about the little people? No, not just gnomes. All of those Westfall farmers, Southshore fur traders, and Feathermoon scholars–what makes them tick? That to me is very interesting.

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  1. Of all the things to rant about. Makes me miss the ones where nerf hunters was the call.

  2. I am almost getting a trolly vibe from the original rant, that the person who wrote it, did so not because it was actually what they thought, but to stir people up… I could be very wrong though. After all, it is a level 80 writing it! =P

    As for gnomes in lore, I think that they don’t have a healy class offered to them simply because it’s not really what they excel at or have an interest in. I would actually love a gnome healer that was like… some sort of mad doctor using lots of little gadgets or something, rather than the holy light/the spirits… I would roll one of those in a heartbeat!

    Pikes last blog post..So, We Meet Again, Patch

  3. Gnomes OD have a religion. It’s very simple:
    They worship their technology.

    It seems to me that Gnomes, like the Forsaken, worship their own will and successes.

    The Forsaken may have once believed int he light, but if I was a devout paladin, killed, and then brought back as an aberration of what I once worshiped, then I think I’d rely more on myself.

    Gnomes probably worship a god of technology, if there is one. If that is the case, they probably hide it from the rest of the Alliance for fear of persecution.

    Klinderass last blog post..I Am Still Fabulous

  4. Hmmmm. I wonder if the poster is a normal forum troll. Could be that the person is just incredibly touchy and cant tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Gnomes arent real. WoW isnt real. Religion does not need to be properly represented in WoW. If someone is going to complain, what of the sterotypical rastafarian accent of Trolls?

    Some people have way too much time on their hands.

    Darraxuss last blog post..Tanks: The Generals of WoW

  5. The other important questions can be:
    Does Tifany is finally going to stop dropping her necklace in the loch of redridge?
    Does Molly is finally going to stand up against her brother who is constantly stealing her doll in Stormwind?
    Is Corky going to stop going to Ogres places and getting captured in Nagrand?
    Why Moroes is not making preparations for un-announced visitors before they come in Kara?
    Isn’t The Old Blanchy going to get a cold after giving up her blanket to so many?
    Why a Stanglethorn tiger reads the Green Hills of Stranglethorn?
    Should not the druids in Slave Pens/Underbog go to cat form and prowl out?

    Douceurs last blog post..From DPS to Healer

  6. My first main at wow launch was a gnome warrior girl, Pookie. Do I wish these days I could make a gnome pally or priest? Sure it sounds fun but eh I’m not sure I see it fluff wise for me.
    Pookie’s concerns weren’t the nature of the universe or her place in them. She knew her place already, taking people down at their kneecaps. The dwarves already were delving the whole Titans thing so religion seemed pretty figured out. But making things? Isn’t that a lot like being a Titan? You take parts you make something? Or at least thats her view on religion after going to Uldaman.
    Aren’t gnomes and dwarves closely related in the fluff? Like cousins or something? I’d go look but evil work won’t let me

    There are too many things to say about the OP and his particular stance on the subject to even begin going there.

    Pookies last blog post..How to deal with the Noobs in your Game Life

  7. It would be great if Blizzard would flesh out their cultures more. As someone who’s played on many an RP server, I know there are a lot of players who want to hear these kinds of things. We can only try to extrapolate some details from quests and books, but the rest is OUR imaginations. And while that’s fun sometimes, a lot of RPers enjoy playing within the confines of the game world and they just want to try and represent a “normal” Azerothian.

  8. To reply in a philosophical bent, there are intelligent, educated religious communities that do not have a clergy. The Society of Friends or Quakers is one that came to mine as I read the rant. They have a group of elders, but no paid clergy in their church.

    I’ve been to a couple of Quaker weddings. The bride and groom marry themselves. Their guests are invited to speak spontaneously. There is no sermon, no ceremony at all. When all have had their say, one of the elders will call the wedding to a close. Then all the guests are invited to witness the marriage license (a large document the bride and groom will often frame as a keepsake). I don’t know all the legal details, but in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where there are a number of members of the Society of Friends, this is a legally accepted wedding, even though neither a licensed member of the clergy or other government member officiating.

  9. “So, being an atheist, and a slave of Satan gives you a greater mind, eh? ”
    “Any christians out there will and should agree with me.”

    Wait…WoW has Satan AND Christianity?! Does this mean I have to attend church in Stormwind on Sundays?

    kyrileans last blog post..A Newbie Raider’s Guide: Gearing Up For Raiding

  10. I <3 crazy christians. They truly are an entertaining bunch.

    To address the original forum poster, if your looking for christianity in a video game – you need to seek professional mental help. Video games are not real life and as such should not be assessed for a correlation between the two. People who cannot differentiate between real life and a game are a danger to society. For if they implement christianity into WoW, then I am justified in showing up on your doorstep and casting Starfall on you and your family. =P

    As far as WoW goes, I tend to be more of a LoreLOL? player. I have a general understanding of why I want to kill the bad guy and why they want to kill me and thats good enough.

    And being an atheist automatically makes you a “Slave of Satan”? That’s kind of impossible considering atheists don’t believe in Satan. I find it puzzling how most atheists are more tolerant of other religions than other religions are of atheists. But I digress… as an atheist myself, I hope that one day we will be able to prove the creation of man through science and when that happens, we will be able to have world peace. 😀

    Speaking of science – here’s an article I found that I think Matt might find interesting. If this theory holds up, our entire world could actually be a 3D representation of an actual distant 2D world. Blows your mind!


  11. I think the poster of this rant has a particular understanding of religion, which I don’t share.

    However, I WOULD like to know how gnomes handle wedding ceremonies. I don’t think anyone goes to church in SW though. Maybe I’ll check it out this Sunday and see if there are more NPCs than usual in the Cathedral…and I’ll report back on whether I see any gnomes.

  12. My rl hubby and I both played gnomes originally and while we were still dating irl our toons got married in game. We had our guild leader NE do the ceremony in front of the twilight grove (prior to the dragon being added there) It was very gnomecentric. Course this is because we did our own vows.
    I don’t know I don’t particularly want to know personally. I like the whole aspect of making it up for them on my own. There is no cannon for anyone to point at and go “OMG that isn’t how they said it was!?!” And that is the mind set you get with too much cannon on how a world is. People freak when it isn’t exact. I’ll take the freedom anyday.
    *sigh* My gnome has never perfected her Auto-Hair Dye 3000 yet. Anyone wanna test it? Guarenteed to stripe your hair any color you want in 30 seconds or less…if it works. *wink*

    Pookies last blog post..How to deal with the Noobs in your Game Life

  13. Having been sitting here staring a my keyboard for five full minutes to figure out where to start, i can certainly understand why Blizzard locked the thread.

    And yet, after five minutes the best I can come up with is something like:
    lolwut?! You level to 80 and THEN you decide to become a die hard lore fan?

    Religious people (do not get offended, I could not find a better word), strangely scary and entertaining at the same time.

  14. The Lore is/was badly twisted out of shape to fit the gaming possibilities of WOW.
    Blizzard decided that there would be 2 playable factions only. That meant lumping a number of disparate races together.

    Tauren (nature lovers, Circle of Life blah blah) allied with magically reanimated Undead (the Forsaken) who wish to destroy all life (Apothecary Sociaety quests deal almost eclusively with the creation of plagues and diseases)? I don’t think so.

    Night Elves and HUmans are so far apart in their view of the world that I doubt they could ever be allies the way they are in WOW.
    Sure in Warcraft 3 they had a temporary alliance, but so did the Orcs. Once the Legion was defeated, that alliance would have fallen apart in no time.

    Blood Elves were able to somehow gain access to Paladin skills, which are centered around the Light, but Night Elves can’t be Paladins, but can be Priests that use Holy Light spells? No logic.

    Draenei can be Shamans, but Night Elves can’t? Aren”t Night Elves more in tune with Azerothian nature than Draenei?

    Gnomes could be healers. They could create a literal Healbot that spams radiation to heal people (that occasionally goes wrong ha!).

    The Forsaken don’t worship anything. Now that IS odd. Maybe they should be banned from healing, too.

  15. Orcs can be Shamans which is akin to a Native american holistic view of religion ie. being intuned with nature etc…

    Gnomes are worship the mind which shows with the strong affinity for magic and engineering.

    Just because things don’t fit a nice christian view of the world doesn’t negate the belief

  16. Boondockst says:

    I think I saw a conversation on this back during one of the patch days during christmas break. The way alot of people on the website I was reading (I’m sorry, I have no idea where I saw this) was that many of the gnomes were scientific. They looked at things in the world with an agnostic (not atheist, but agnostic) point of view: show me scientific proof that a higher power exists, and I will believe.
    Now I will admit, the idea of “healing” someone while your hands are glowing yellow and raising fallen comrades from death is pretty strong evidence for the gnomes to look at, I think we also need to look at this from a game balance point of view: not all the classes can be healers and not all classes can be damage dealers.
    The Horde tends to be healer heavy when you look at character creation screens: BE’s are priests and paladins, UD are priests, Orc’s are shamans, Troll’s are shamans and priests, Tauren are druids and shamans.
    On the other hand, the Alliance tends to be dps heavy: every Alliance race can be a warrior (literally unless I’m mistaken), more Alliance races can be hunters, mages, locks, or rogues.
    Its the way the game was balanced, and imo, they have come a long way in balancing the game, considering that it wasn’t to long ago that shamans and paladins were faction specific.

  17. Well, why not give Gnomes a religion? Give em Deus ex Machina, the evil god that will conquer all other religions and replace the Light by a lightbulb.
    That ought to be fun… I’d roll a Gnome right away 🙂

    But I agree with your view on the original rant. I feel the real problem isn’t the lore but the conflict between that person’s perspective on religion and a world wide game.

  18. Blizzard does have just one guy to keep it all straight, and it’s Chris Metzen. When they introduced Gnomes, he (and his team) had to figure a way to work them into the lore. When they introduced Blood Elves and Draenei, same deal. A lot of the campaigns from Warcraft were carried into quests and dungeons in WoW. To your point, that’s mainly hero-class stuff, true. But Blizz does a pretty great job tying things together, from what I’ve seen.

    Remember Old Blanchy in Westfall (Alliance only)? Well, she is back as just “Blanchy” when you escort Thrall in the Old Hillsbrad Caverns of Time. I think that’s a glimpse of daily life.

    Why do Dwarves explore? Nesingwary might explain more of this, or his son (I haven’t hung around them while they emote enough to see). But if you do the Uldaman quests and read the information on the Ulduar (Ulda?) discs, it might make more sense. In fact, the stuff around Storm Peaks (all the Maker stuff) might seem a little weird, but it makes more sense from the Uldaman stuff. I’ve always wondered where the gates of Ulduar led… I haven’t rolled a dwarf ever, but maybe they say something about it in their quests.

    TL;dr: Good questions, though. Maybe I’ll write up a post about all of this. Clearly it’s inspired me to write… lots!

    Nims last blog post..Dragonborn hat

  19. Really interesting post! I’ve never really contemplated the idea of religion in WoW before. I have to run out the door to work or I would write more, but just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading this.

    Jezraels last blog post..Epic flight – old skool style

  20. Its an interesting point as far as lore goes. First of all I will clarify 3 things:

    1) I am christian
    2) I am a lore-geek
    3) English is my second lenguage so please exuse the gramar mistakes

    Thats right. Now you can insult me to your hearts content. You did it alredy? Ok lets procede.

    Its clearly stated that most gnomes do belive in the Light (wich is more a philosophy than a religion since they dont workship anything but try to follow a dicipline) the problem is that they arent that interested in religion as the other races like the Humans, Draenei and Dwarfs and unlike those other races they dont actually need that. They have medics to treat the injuries and deaces so they dont need a priest to do de exact same job therefore they are more interested in magic and tecnology than the spiritual world.

    Granted maybe blizz was a little biased on the chossing of lore of that race but I find it hard to belive since Chris Metzen (the guy who is in charge of all the Lore and Game mechanics in WoW) does where a cross around its neak on the blizzcon 2009.

    And finally on the new expancion set “Cataclysm” the Gnomes, Tauren, Worgen and Goblins will get the priest class.


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